Consider Replacing Part or All of Your Front Lawn with a Pollinator-Friendly Garden
Lush, wide, green and rolling: In America, we love our lawns. We like to sprawl out on the grass for a picnic, gather on the neighbor’s lawn for a game of touch football, and set up our folding chairs and tiki-torches in the backyard green for summer barbeques. I like doing these things too, and I have a small lawn of my own in Vermont. But it’s important to remember that lawns, from an environmental perspective, provide little support for the ecosystem. In fact the tremendous amount of water, fossil fuel, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides used to maintain most suburban lawns makes our green-fixation downright irresponsible. And although green areas do reduce heat in cities, tightly cropped lawns do little to create habitat and provide food for birds, bees and the many other creatures sharing our world. Read the rest of this entry →
Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment
The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby. Read the rest of this entry →
Looking for a great, inspirational gift for the holiday season- one that keeps on giving, with the natural world and environment in mind? It’s easy to inspire a new gardener or please a more experienced green-thumb without spending a bundle over the holidays. A present of seed and/or seed starting kits, particularly for youngsters, is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Gardening is a healthy and environmentally friendly skill to encourage – a hobby that will last a lifetime, and one that can help support other living creatures, particularly pollinators like honeybees…
My passion for gardening developed in early childhood. It all started with a milk carton filled with soil and a few flower seeds. Easy to start seeds, such as sunflower, marigold and zinnia, make great gifts for gardening novices and kids during the winter holidays. When giving seeds to children, I always like to stick them inside a book, like ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ or ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, to spark imagination and curiosity.
For gardening cooks, herb seeds, (particularly organic basil, parsley, sage, mint and coriander), are always appreciated both in the kitchen and in the vegetable garden, where they attract beneficial insects including honey bees. And while we are on the subject of vegetable gardens, organically grown cucumber, pumpkin, squash, gourd and water-mellon seed make great gifts for friends with victory gardens, as these plants provide ample food for bees and humans alike. Other bee favorites, including the appropriately named North American native bee balm (Monarda), coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia) and cat mint (Nepeta), make great flower garden gifts for anyone with a little outdoor space.
For more experienced flower gardeners, heirloom flower seeds are always a good choice – there are many interesting new varieties of biennials available every year, including bee favorites like foxglove (Digitalis), and hollycock (Alcea). If the choices seem daunting, simply request a catalogue from a good company, and enclose a gift certificate.
Great online sources for seed include; Renee’s Garden, Florabunda Seeds and High Mowing Organic Seeds. Johnny’s Seeds also has a great selection of seeds and an excellent selection of seed starting supplies, including biodegradable starter pots and kits.
Give the gift of life this holiday season – give seeds and encourage gardening in support of honeybees.
As the trees finally shed their leaves and our thoughts turn to wintery pleasures and indoor activities, it’s easy to forget about the honey bee. After all, our busy little friends are hibernating out of sight and mind at this time of year. But before the ground freezes, and even over winter, there are still some favors we can do for these important pollinators to support them in their environment when they emerge next year.
In the early part of the growing season, flowers and their nectar are relatively scarce – this is also true in very late summer and fall. Nature provides bees with food in their environment of course, but in many areas, native plants have been reduced or eliminated as humans have encroached upon and altered natural habitats. Some introduced and hybridized plants do provide food for bees, but unfortunately, many gardeners favor double-flowered, exotic plants that are more difficult for pollinators to access. Most wild, indigenous plants have open, easy-access flowers, making them more attractive and desirable to honey bees.
So how do you choose shrubs to support bees and integrate these plants into your landscape? Learning a little bit about the plants native to your region is a good place to start, and education can take place at any time of the year. There are a number of good books and field guides written on the subject of native, North American plants. Many of these titles are available in local libraries and universities. Some of the best guide books include both photos and detailed information about the required growing conditions of native plants, and their hardiness ranges. William Cullina’s beautiful book, Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines, is an excellent resource for gardeners.
In addition, many states have helpful native plant societies. Try Googling your state name followed by the phrase “Wildflower Society” or “Native Plant Society”. These sites will often list plants, including shrubs, native to your area. When visiting nurseries and garden centers, ask about native plants. The more we ask retailers for native plants by name and buy them, the more likely they will be to continue ordering them and keeping them on hand. All of these actions will help support the honey bee, and the environment as a whole.
The question comes up every September in my garden. The meter-reader, oil delivery driver and countless guests have asked: “What’s that bright yellow shrub over there by the wall… The one covered with birds and red berries?” When I ask, “Have you heard of Lindera benzoin, North American spicebush?”, the answer is invariably ‘no’. And no matter how many times I make the introduction, it’s always surprising to me that this gorgeous shrub isn’t more widely known and used in the landscape. Spicebush’s season-spanning, informal beauty makes her the perfect choice for naturalizing along woodland boundaries and in countless other transitional situations. But as you can see from the photo above, this native plant also works beautifully in a mixed-border; with other trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials.
The show begins in first weeks of April, when the spicebush’s lightly-fragrant, lemon-yellow blossoms begin to open on the dreariest of days. These early flowers are an important source of nectar to pollinating insects —including native and honey bees—and a welcome sight to my winter-weary eyes. The specimen pictured above — in front of the stone wall surrounding the Secret Garden— has developed a round, mounded shape in full sun (I prune very lightly after the early spring blossoms fade). Lindera benzoin will also tolerate light shade, and the groupings here at the edge of the native forest have developed a more open, but graceful habit. After the early flowers fade, attractive, blue-green foliage (the leaves have a delightfully spicy, masculine fragrance when crushed, and can be used to make tea, herbal sachets or potpourri) makes a fine backdrop for other players in front of the perennial border.
As pretty and uplifting as this shrub is when blossoming in April, come September, spicebush really turns things up a notch in the garden when its foliage shifts from cool green to brilliant, lemon-gold. The female plants (this species is dioecious and a male must be planted nearby for the female to produce fruit), with their bright red berries (edible/substitute for allspice), are especially fetching in autumn; attracting birds from the nearby forest by the dozen. Combinations with other showy, autumn shrubs and trees —such as bold red viburnum (particluarly V.bodnatense and V. trilobum), dogwood, witch hazel, and red vein enkianthus— are always gorgeous. And rich purple or deep-blue blossoms —including monkshood (Aconitum) and asters in autumn, and glory-of-the-snow (Chinodoxa), crocus and grape hyacinth (Muscari) in spring— make lovely, perennial and bulb pairings with spicebush on either end of the growing season as well. Conifers, particularly deep green hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and blue spruce cultivars (Picea pungens) also provide a striking contrast to luminous Lindera benzoin, both in texture and color. And keep in mind the design possibilities of deep violet foliage when choosing a spot for spicebush. Dark, burgundy shrubs, including Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, P. opufolius ’Summer Wine’ and Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’, really bring out the golden hues in Lindera benzoin; as do perennials like purple fountain grass (Pennisetum rubrum) and Sedum ‘Matrona’ or S. ‘Purple Emperor’. In a shadier situation, try spicebush in combination with the purple foliage of Heuchera cultiavars (like ‘Plum Pudding’ and ‘Palace Purple’) or perhaps Actaea racemosa (aka Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ or ‘Brunette’).
Hardy in zones 4-9, Lindera benzoin is a native of N. America from the north into Canada and on south to Florida; into midwestern Michigan and Kansas, and southwest to moderate climate zones of Texas. As a landscaping plant, spicebush is relatively trouble-free in the garden or naturalized settings; forming a mound-shaped shrub (6-12′ high and wide) when planted in a sunny location. In the shade the shrub tends to form a more open shape (a bit like Amelanchier); absolutely lovely, though subtle, when in bloom. Lindera benzoin prefers even soil-moisture (dry conditions make for a scruffy looking specimen) with cooling mulch about the root-zone (helpful to preserve even soil temperature and moisture)
Perhaps you’re already acquainted with lovely Lindera. If so, remember to pass on the good word. Mid to late fall is a great time to add shrubs to the landscape (see related post here). This native plant is an important part of our natural, North American habitat, and a significant source of food for insects (bees and butterfly larvae) and birds. But it seems to me that the spring blossoms, red fruit and glorious, golden, autumn color of Lindera benzoin provide all the promotional material any plant could ever need…
Late Summer’s Garden Delight… Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’: Beautiful Bush Clover, Buzzing with Bees
Ever notice how there always seems to be at least one hopping joint in every town, where the locals routinely gather for their morning coffee or to grab a quick bite at lunch? Yesterday afternoon, I met up with a friend at a just-such a café, and as usual, it was just buzzing with activity. I thought about that place this morning, when I went outside to water the pots on my terrace; noting that my garden has a similar hot-spot. Popular with all the busy bees, my bush clover, (Lespedeza thunbergii), is conveniently situated at a busy garden intersection, between the long perennial borders and the wildflower meadow. From dawn-to-dusk, this elegant-but-relaxed place is just packed with bees and butterflies. The nectar must be very sweet indeed… Read the rest of this entry →
Graceful, elegant and generous are but a few of the words that spring to mind when describing Doublefile Viburnum, (V. plicatum var. tomentosum); one of the most delightful species in my absolute favorite genus of woody plants. Although this shrub wears no perfume in springtime, she more than makes up for her lack of fragrance with four-season beauty and an easy-to-please manner Read the rest of this entry →
Oh to be a butterfly! Just imagine fluttering upon this delightful blossom; saturated in golden-orange color and loaded with sweet nectar. What a feast! Why I’d flit from flower to flower, happily sharing precious pollen with hovering hummingbirds and buzzing bees, from sunrise to sunset. Butterflyweed in the garden? Yes, yes – don’t let the ‘weed’ moniker fool you! North American native Aesclepias tuberosa is a wonderful garden plant, forming neat and tidy, mid-sized mounds in the perennial border, where it blooms its pretty little head off on even the hottest of summer days (and boy are we having those right now – 97 degrees in the shade yesterday). Read the rest of this entry →
Penstemon, Rudbeckia and Veronica: An Easy, Breezy, Flowering Combination for Mid-Summer Meadow Gardens…
Bees buzzing in the garden, sun-tea brewing on the terrace, and books piled high beside the hammock; sweet summertime is here at last. I love waking up to early morning sunshine playing upon the warm, summery colors in my garden. Read the rest of this entry →